Can Plastics be Sustainable?

With a fast growing global population, the need for a more sustainable economy is driving innovation in materials. Plastics are particularly at the forefront of research due to their ubiquitous nature, being found in all aspects of life from food-preserving packaging through to automotive and construction materials, as well as vital medical devices.

They have unique performance in terms of ease of manufacturing, chemical resistance and barrier properties. However, lack of proper disposal and limited supplies of the fossil fuels that provide polymer feedstocks is driving forward new developments from finding alternative sources of monomers and innovative materials from bio-sources, through to closed loop recycling. AMI is bringing together top experts to show the latest research and debate the issues at its next international conference on Sustainable Plastics 2016, which will take place from 1-2 March 2016 at the Maritim Hotel in Cologne, Germany.

How is sustainability measured and certified? What is eco-design?  How do we select the greenest materials and manufacturing options? What is the demand from big brand owners and consumers?  Do bio-based chemicals always compete with the food chain? How do life cycle assessments (LCA) compare? What is the latest news on recovery and recycling? What is the best option for different end of life plastics waste streams from reuse to energy generation?

The conference kicks off with a paper from the agricultural university of Wageningen, which will lay out the facts about bio-sourcing and what can be used from the plant kingdom without jeopardising the food supply, this is the food versus fuel and chemicals debate, which is a critical concern worldwide.  The major chemical company DSM is moving towards bio-based alternatives for its products and has studied life cycle assessment and is using sustainability as a business driver.  The European Commission aims to increase the recovery of plastics waste and is driving this with legislation; Professor Helmut Maurer is an expert in this subject.

There are new alternative materials from bio-sources.  The Scion company in New Zealand has had success in using biomass side-waste streams in plastics production, which provides a valuable use for material that was being discarded.  Meanwhile in Spain A. Schulman has worked to develop a cosmetics packaging tube that is biodegradable – the first in its field.  However, it is not all roses in the bioplastics debate.  A recent study of the life cycle assessment (LCA) values of materials for disposable catering plastics by Pro.Mo (the Italian Disposable Tableware Producers association) compared PLA, PP, PS, cellulose pulp and reusable glass and ceramics and gave some surprising results, which will be presented at the AMI Sustainable Plastics conference.

There are increasingly successful developments in building the circular economy with plastics recovery and recycling: Veolia is a leader in this field in Europe.  There are a range of joint industry projects in progress to establish appropriate technologies in specific fields.  Dow EMEA has joined a value chain collaboration to enable the recycling of flexible packaging and EREMA has developed a more efficient technology for recycling WEEE and thick walled packaging.

There have been great achievements in building new chemical pathways to produce commodity plastics from renewable sources.  Brazil has vast land resources and Braskem is leading the way with green polyethylene from sugar cane.  In Taiwan Far Eastern New Century Corporation has developed both bio-based PET and recovered polyester materials by recycling.  In Europe the PVC industry has had great success in recovering and reusing material and Inovyn is part of this programme.

The automotive industry is pioneering bio-composite materials, which are lightweight and bio-sourced: Dr Gerard Liraut of Renault is a world expert in this field.   Over at Philips in the Netherlands they are working to incorporate recycled polypropylene in household appliances.  Companies looking to use recyclate may find difficulties in obtaining a reliable and regular supply chain. One success story is Galloo Plastics in France, which is recovering valuable raw materials from end of life vehicles (ELV) and WEEE.

In the retail industry packaging specification and recovery is a big issue, so Marks and Spencer Foods has taken on the challenge of sustainable packaging design.  There can be issues, for example, with biodegradable packaging that is left in a warm, damp environment and may degrade before use if not properly stored, or indeed the definition of “biodegradable”. Another problem is that green labelling and consumer communications are still not universally standardised for renewable products.  On a much larger packaging scale, Mauser-Werke in Germany has developed new packaging made from recycled plastics.

From the next generation of materials, BASF has a biodegradable plastic and will highlight case studies of its use and the end of life options.  Corbion Purac is a leader in PLA production and will outline the market availability of this bio-based material.  Over at Ava Biochem in Switzerland they are developing alternative sources of monomers for performance polymers including bio-based 5-HMF for PEF, which is the new alternative to PET for bottles and has better barrier performance.

From eco-design through to end of life recovery, AMI’s Sustainable Plastics 2016 conference in March in Cologne brings together brand owners, environment and sustainability managers, business innovation professionals, chemical engineers, plastics manufacturers, agriculture specialists, biorefinery experts, recyclers and researchers to debate economic solutions for a sustainable future polymer industry.

International conference on developing a sustainable plastics industry, from sourcing to a circular economy
1-2 March 2016, Maritim Hotel, Cologne, Germany
Web site:




Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *